Homosexuality

The Simple Treatments of Complex Issues

There are a variety of issues that have a propensity to divide the Christian church, or at the very least, throw its adherents into frenzy. In order to comment on the treatment of such issues as a whole, I have arbitrarily selected one of the most controversial and sensitive of these issues to write about.

In the years that I’ve lived on this planet, the leanings of protestant denominations on social issues have been fairly well defined. Evangelical churches have traditionally condemned homosexual acts, along with the social acceptance thereof. Mainline churches have tended to accept them, though sometimes causing schism.

I offer no answers to questions that you can only ask yourself.

Tolerance

The lore of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church is widespread, but this has little to do with reality. While many religious conservatives may take exception to homosexuality, I cannot personally recall meeting people who have professed the ill will towards homosexuals that is projected upon them.

The Bible

Overt, unambiguous condemnations of homosexual behaviour occur twice in the Bible: in the Levitical code (Leviticus 18:22, essentially identical to 20:13), and as written by Paul in Romans 1:26-27.

In an attempt create harmony, some have invented alternate interpretations of these verses. Unfortunately, this approach to reading the text is intellectually bankrupt. This same mindset underlies errors across the entire spectrum of social and political views among Christians, and it must be avoided.

We may ask ourselves whether the text applies to the present situation. We may ask whether there is an essential principle in these passages that must be imported, over and above the cultural context in which it appears. We may ask every relevant hermeneutical question, but we must not engage in silly semantics.

Emphasis

The amount of attention the church has paid to homosexuality—as measured by books, articles, and Internet-based writings—drastically exceeds that given to (for example) divorce, which is addressed by Jesus. [1]

Understanding

Some Christians have simply not had meaningful interactions with homosexual people. Their attitude is harsh and narrow-minded at times, but this is expected, just as the abrasive commentary from politically charged activists may indicate a lack of meaningful interactions with these same Christians.

Marriage

The issue of gay marriage cannot be branded as an issue of human rights. It is a simple democratic question as to whether society wishes to apply a particular title to a certain group of people. No essential rights of gay couples are affected by the use of this title, as its only effect is to require the other members of society to acknowledge its use in this way. I would suggest that if the majority of people in a population elect to recognize these couples as “married,” the title should be applied. If they do not, it should not.

Thus, I believe that activists for gay marriage are obligated to convince detractors, rather than overrule them.

Instinct

Many in mainstream culture are appalled by the idea of rejecting homosexual behaviour on moral or religious grounds. It seems, however, that the greatest portion of this revulsion has not built its foundation in logic, but in cultural conditioning—we believe that we are morally obligated to fulfill the desires that we possess.

It is fair for a person, upon examining the qualities of his or her desires, to feel that God should (or would) not condemn the indulgence of these desires. The reasonable believer, however, cannot come to a conclusion solely based upon this. We are all gripped by desires that we struggle against. When we distinguish between them, we do not rely on instinct alone, but our entire worldview.

This is to say nothing of the conclusions that one ought to reach. It follows, however, that if there were gay Christians who believed that their faith precluded acting upon their urges (and there are), there would be no merit in criticizing them.

Symmetry

An oft-overlooked fact is that homosexuality is not homogeneous.

There are those who have never felt differently. There are those who are uncertain. There are those who had confusing experiences in their childhood, and there are even those who seem to have become bored with being straight and begun to experiment.

As an aside, I distinctly recall opening NOW Magazine and reading Dan Savage’s column one afternoon—I used to regularly read this column to add some spice to my day—and discovering that he had at one point “switched” to men, in small part due to something that happened when he was with a particular woman. This, more so than any of the reader questions I had read, was surprising.

Morality, as seen by religious people, is inherently linked to the context of the behaviour. It is based on principle. For religious or secular parties to indiscriminately refer to “homosexuality” in a moral context is an oversimplification. It does not reflect the way that religious morality deals with issues, and it does not reflect the diverse situations that it interacts with.

Change

In part due to the above, it is criminal to chastise a homosexual person who has tried (with or without success) to change their orientation, for reasons religious or otherwise. The very idea that one might seek to change his or her orientation is so upsetting to mainstream culture that it is buried in rhetoric on any occasion that it threatens to surface. Despite this, there are some who wish to change, and there are some who have changed.

This should not be perceived as a threat to those who cannot, should not, or do not wish to, change.

Science

It seems clear from the data that homosexuality is influenced by genetics, but contains a developmental aspect. [2] On one hand, it is slightly misleading to suggest that the orientation is indisputably written into one’s genes. For this reason, I personally do not believe in conflating sexual orientation and race too heavily. On the other hand, it is grossly inaccurate to say that “being gay is a choice,”—an idea widespread among Christians who have not truly engaged the issue. This thoroughly aggravating belief seems consistent with a common evangelical coping mechanism, by which complexity is easily resolved: that all disagreements with the standard evangelical worldview arise from free acts of rebellion against God. [3]

Truth

I imagine that some who feel conflicted upon this issue may flirt with the following reasoning:

A) I know that gay behaviour is morally acceptable

B) Christianity states that gay behaviour is morally unacceptable

C) Therefore Christianity is false

This is a dangerous way to think, however. All support for premise (A) is subjective, and if one is willing to act subjectively, there are enough people on both sides of premise (B) to simply choose the side that one likes best. Any serious reflection will reveal that the conclusion (C) must be reached independently of (A) and (B).

I can say only this—that our answers to life’s ultimate questions should not be chosen according to their implications, or the complexity they may entail. I do not mean to say that this is simple.

Action

For those who are both gay and Christian, no combination of the above statements makes it easy.

I haven’t seen the evangelical church as a whole extend much love and kindness to gay people. The spectrum of opinions on homosexuality within the church is irrelevant—evangelicals have shown compassion and empathy for people from all walks of life, with or without acceptance of their lifestyle. Perhaps we simply find it easier to welcome those whose behaviour stems from desires that we, ourselves, have.

I have written most of this from experience over time. And for the things that I may have said, to the people that I may have met, I am sorry.

—————————————————————–

[1] I have recalled this statistic from a session at the annual American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) meeting.

[2] The studies that most heavily imply this conclusion were carried out on identical twins. They are widely known, and are described here.

[3] This will be the topic of a separate essay.

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5 Responses to “Homosexuality”

  1. Interesting post Steve. I especially like the ABC list under truth. Although some people might follow this ABC framework, I would agree that it is not rationally justified, but for different reasons than you.

    PART A:
    In order to define a concept of absolute morally, one would need to prove the existence of an absolute ruler. However, up to date, there is no philosophical argument which does this in a convincing manner therefore faith (or irrational belief) is required to accomplish this. Therefore I conclude that morality is quite relative. Though this is a discomforting idea, I’m sure you will find endless evidence of it’s truth.

    PART B:
    The church disagrees with homosexuality because its code of conduct was defined in an age where homosexuality was generally understood to be wrong. Although I admit that Christian Philosophy was way ahead of its time when it was created, it is now much behind current standard of morality (as it applied to Gays, Women, Slave rights, and much more).

    PART C:
    And since the existence of god can not be philosophical justified and the holy text is outdated on many issues of morality (as observed by a neutral non-Christian living in today’s western society), the claim of the infallibility of the bible and Christian beliefs is wrong. However, Christianity still holds many of the moral notions that have not gone out of date. Such as the golden rule (do unto others as you’d have them do onto you) or hypocrisy. But not that these lessons were not unique to the Christian beliefs, the same notions can be found in Buddhist texts of similar times.

  2. My Opinion:

    I think you’re trying very hard to justify what I still consider to be intolerance against homosexuals.

    I’m not too worried though, because in time I believe society will continue in the direction it’s heading, where the more liberal mindset becomes widespread.

    I believe the Bible was written by ignorant men and that there is no message in the anti-homosexual passages beyond the cultural context of the time.

    (sorry I got back to you on this before rambling to you about {workplace})

  3. Shayan: (A) One would not need to prove anything to define such a concept.

    Wabasso: “I think you’re trying very hard …”

    I am not justifying intolerance. If you consider the personal beliefs of some “intolerance,” I need not try at all. For one to hold beliefs about the morality of certain behaviour is not intolerant–demonizing them, however, is. When we cannot collectively endure the personal beliefs of others concerning objective matters, though they have no hate in them, we create true persecution.

  4. If morality is relative, and certain moral tenets that were once held to be true are now “out of date”, does this mean that eventually murder will become morally acceptable?

  5. After watching the Oscars last night and contemplating the many statements made regarding the homosexual agenda (as some call it), I went to bed with this very topic on my mind. While I hold that homosexuality is immoral according to a faithful Christian standard, I felt at a loss as to what else I could say about it. I had a lesbian roommate for awhile in college whose company I enjoyed and whom I respected for a number of other solid qualities she possessed. I had a few opportunities to discuss the subject with her–I mostly listened–and I learned a lot, but not nearly enough, I felt. She didn’t have a lot of answers for what “makes” a person gay, either, and that’s what I was most curious about. I’m still curious.

    I have another friend who recently came out, and I didn’t exactly see it coming. Personality-wise, it makes sense to me, but I don’t know if he always felt that way and was simple repressing it, or if he recently decided that was where he belonged for lack of fitting anywhere else.

    I know another person who is a devoted follower of Christ and has struggled with homosexuality from a young age. He takes a stand against it as a principle. I don’t know what prompts the inclination in him, either, aside from his brief explanation during a Bible study: gender roles weren’t properly explained to him by parents when he was growing up and he became confused out of neglect.

    So, last night, I began to think to myself: there is a severe lack of understanding here. I’ve never been one to abuse gays and lesbians on account of their lifestyle, but I don’t think I do much better than the Christians who do because I still don’t know enough about it to bring the issue into profitable contact with my worldview. I don’t know how to make that connection–and I have a feeling that many homosexuals are equally bewildered about what to make of conservative Christian ideals, even should they accept professors of those ideals as friends (as they have done to me).

    All that being said, I really appreciate how you’ve laid out the different aspects of the issue here in an accessible, orderly manner. As I continue thinking about these things, I expect to come back here when I need help making sense of what I learn.

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